Mitigating the impacts of droughts and heat waves at thermoelectric power plants in the United States

Margaret A. Cook, December 2014 (Citation)


Recent droughts and heat waves have revealed the vulnerability of some power plants to effects from higher temperature intake water for cooling. Climate projections estimate higher air temperatures in future years, indicating that these problems could increase. This research seeks to understand the magnitude of influence that higher temperatures will have on power plant effluent water temperatures to quantify a power plant’s exposure to risk of de-rating induced by low or warm cooling water availability. The objective of this analysis is to help policymakers and plant operators plan for future electricity supplies without damaging the natural environment of the cooling reservoirs and rivers. This objective is met via assessment of water constraints associated with current technology, policy, and environmental conditions in two river basins, the Gulf Coast Basin in Texas and the Upper Mississippi River Basin in the Midwestern United States. Risk of reduced operations at these power plants associated with thermal discharge limits is then assessed by estimating intake and effluent water temperatures and comparing these estimates to current restrictions. Of the thirty-three plants analyzed, none are estimated to exceed effluent temperature limits within the study period of 2015 to 2035. However, twelve power plants could face increasing intake temperatures, leading to potential issues with cooling efficiency. Fourteen plants could discharge slightly higher effluent temperatures, possibly influencing the ecosystem of the return water body upon discharge beyond today’s impacts. To help with planning for future issues, this analysis also identifies many of the ways by which power plants mitigate issues with low water levels and high temperatures. Designing plants for potentially scarce water resources and making policies that protect water supplies and support energy resources could be beneficial in coming years. This research is intended to inform that objective.


Margaret A. Cook, Environmental Water and Resource Engineering and LBJ School of Public Affairs, December 2014, “Mitigating the Impacts of Droughts and Heat Waves at Thermoelectric Power Plants in the United States”